Recently, researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium) and the University of Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed the health risks of cobalt mining to the miners who operate by hand. This is after previous research carried out back in 2009 found high concentrations of trace metals in the urine of people living close to mines. The new case study, published in Nature Sustainability, confirms the health risks of cobalt mining.
The researchers conducted a case study in Kasulo, a neighborhood in the heart of the Congolese mining area. The area was quickly converted an artisanal mine following the discovery of cobalt ore under one of the houses. This has since led to the digging of mine pits among the scattered houses. Worse still, most of the residents remained in the area.
According to the report, dust poses a major risk as it contains cobalt and many other metals, including uranium. The dust is released during the mining process and settles on the ground. The researchers collected blood and urine samples from 72 Kasulo residents, including 32 children. A control group with a similar composition was selected in a neighboring district.
Professor Nemery, a toxicologist at the KU Leuven Department of Public Health and Primary Care, confirmed the severity of the situation. According to the results, the children living in the mining district had 10 times as much cobalt in their urine as children living elsewhere. In as much as the long-term consequences of the increased exposure to cobalt are not clear, Professor Nemery is not optimistic. This is because the results showed increased concentrations of several other metals as well. Furthermore, we found more DNA damage in children living in the mining area than in those from the control group. And the preliminary results of an ongoing study suggest that miners’ newborn babies have an increased risk of birth defects.